LIV cut 4 golfers. Here’s how they’ll be replaced — and questions that raises
So far, the vast majority of players who have made the leap to LIV Golf have done so in extreme secrecy; few have dared to admit their intentions until the ink has dried on their contracts and the press release issued by their new employer. Heck, even after signing most of these guys don’t seem particularly keen to talk about their decision to join. They’re not the only ones operating behind closed doors, either — the defectors also have peers who considered joining and entered negotiations with LIV but never reached a deal.
Secrecy has reigned. Joining LIV is such a multilayered, controversial decision — players weigh the implications of playing a Tour owned and operated by the Saudi government, its effect on their public image and sponsorships, future access to majors, guaranteed money versus future earnings, playing schedule, legacy and much more — that it’s far more comfortable to go through in private. But that dynamic is about to flip, at least for some golfers, when they sign up for LIV’s new qualifying tournament with no guarantees in place but with a pot of controversial gold waiting at the end.
There are players who need replacing, after all. LIV just relegated the four players at the bottom of its standings, Jediah Morgan, Chase Koepka, James Piot and Sihwan Kim. One vacated spot will be filled by Andy Ogletree, No. 1 on the Asian Tour’s International Series. But that leaves three for grabs. Who wants ’em?
As professional golf continues to shift in multiple concurrent dimensions, LIV is setting up concrete plans for 2024, including the announcement of its “Promotions” event, a three-day, four-round shootout (we’ll lay out the format at the end) in which a group of players of unknown name and number do battle for three guaranteed spots on 2024 LIV rosters.
The event will take place Dec. 8-10 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates, with 18 holes each of the first two days plus 36 on Sunday. There will be two cuts. There will be byes. There could be two different playoffs. There will be money awarded. There will be exemptions given at the end. Could there be sanctions, too?
Since LIV’s inception, its most intriguing aspect has been who will join. That intrigue is about to begin anew. That in mind, these five questions stuck out from my first glimpse at LIV’s qualifying tournament.
1. Who will have already signed by then?
It’s admittedly intriguing to consider the possibility of several top PGA Tour pros signing up for this event and in doing so publicly admitting their desires to join LIV. But that’s unlikely to happen for one reason: If a top pro wants to go to LIV, he’ll probably already have made the jump by then. (There’s also this subtext: If a really top pro wanted to go to LIV, wouldn’t he have left by now?)
LIV’s free agency period has, to my understanding, already begun. Phil Mickelson has been among those to tease the idea that LIV will sign a new wave of players from the PGA Tour and DP World Tours, and players with cachet would no doubt demand a few crumbs from LIV’s massive money loaf. Of the 48 players on LIV rosters in 2023, 24 retained their spots and a handful more are immune to relegation, which means there will be some turnover, though it’s unclear how much. Will LIV double down in this era of PGA Tour-LIV uncertainty and overwhelm a couple top pros with big money? It seems like a long shot, given just how much top pros made on the PGA Tour this season and given whatever 24 of ’em will be earning as part of the TGL. But these deals will be brokered in secret, as is tradition.
LIV’s exemption categories for this Promotions field include Ryder Cuppers and major champions from the last four years, criteria that lay out their lofty goals for signees. I’d be surprised if anybody fitting that description signs up. But I’ll be intrigued to see who has already signed by the time we get to that point.
2. Wait, so who will sign up?
If I’m generally correct about that previous assumption — that there won’t be any established A-listers in the field — who will sign up? Let’s start here: There are a significant number of professional golfers that would love to be in this event and have a chance to play on LIV. It’s just not obvious where they start and stop. It’s easy to picture career grinders and mini-tour guys salivating over the chance, and there will be some lower-tier pros from top tours, too, but the most interesting category to watch will be exemption categories for top amateurs. The LIV event comes a week after the second stage of PGA Tour/Korn Ferry Tour Q-school and a week before final stage. Is it possible some golfers will sign up for both and then, if they flame out in second stage, head to Abu Dhabi?
Take the example of 21-year-old David Puig, who finished 31st in LIV’s standings this season and earned $3.9 million. That’s insane! The counterpoint (setting aside the Saudi dilemma for a moment) would be that he did so in relative anonymity and has no clear path to playing in golf’s major championships. There are pretty obvious attractions and drawbacks to joining LIV. But riches await if you make it through — and it’s only $25 to sign up.
We know to expect the four relegated LIV players — Jediah Morgan, Chase Koepka, James Piot and Sihwan Kim — but we’ll also likely see some players who were on LIV this season but finished outside the top 25 and then didn’t get signed.
The other group who would potentially sign up would be PGA and DP World Tour pros who haven’t made a mark on their respective tours and wouldn’t command a big-time contract but see this as a potential game-changer. After all, finishing last in every LIV event still means a comfortable seven-figure salary.
3. What happens to those who play?
Again we enter murky waters. I didn’t immediately hear back from the PGA Tour on the subject so I’m not clear what would happen if a PGA Tour player entered LIV’s Promotions event and didn’t get through. Could he return, penalty-free, like nothing had happened? Or would he risk his future on Tour? This question affects a significant number of the people for whom this tournament would seem like a natural fit — the second-tier PGA Tour and DP World Tour guys. The answer is tied up in the murky world of PGA Tour-LIV politics, framework agreements and more.
This is all relatively new and we’ll work to answer these questions in the coming days and weeks, but this has my attention. (Also if you want to read my colleague Sean Zak’s suggestion to consider a season on the DP World Tour, check that out here.)
4. What’s up with TUGR?
Here’s where things really get intriguing: Just a week or so after the OWGR rejected LIV’s application, LIV seems to be rejecting the OWGR in return. This may be a bit of a you’re-fired-well-I-quit situation, but whatever the motivation LIV is opting instead to use a new system called The Universal Golf Ranking, or TUGR, which relies on player matchups to determine rank and includes LIV events. Some notables from its current ranking: Ludvig Aberg is 13th (vs. 58th in the OWGR), while Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele leapfrog Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland in TUGR vs the OWGR.
TUGR still doesn’t have a LIV golfer ranked higher than Cameron Smith at No. 17, but its other members have avoided the precipitous drops they’ve suffered in the OWGR. Talor Gooch is 21st in TUGR, for example, but 214th in the OWGR.
TUGR’s stated methodology:
- Gather head-to-head scores, player-by-player over the past 18 months.
- Let a powerful computer calculate rankings with incredible precision.
- The output is relative strokes per round to the best player in the world.
You can read more about their system here.
5. How will the format play out?
Ah, the format. Like all things LIV, how you feel about the format may be determined by your pre-existing feelings on the subject: If you love LIV, you’ll love the innovation, and if you don’t, well, you might not.
In its simplest form, the Promotions event is an 18-hole pre-qualifier followed by a 54-hole tournament. The top three players at the end of the tournament earn spots on LIV, while finishers 4-10 get exemptions into all International Series events on the Asian Tour.
Who’s exempt to play? Let’s start with the group that’s automatically invited to Saturday’s second round — a group that includes any 2023 LIV golfers.
Players with byes to Round 2
-The top 2 players in the WAGR rankings as of November 20, 2023
-Players ranked 2 to 8 on the final International Series 2023 Rankings
-Leading 5 available players from within the top 30 of the Final 2023 DP World Tour and Korn Ferry Tour Order of Merits / Rankings
-Winners of PGA TOUR and DP World Tour sanctioned tournaments in the 2022 and 2023 calendar years
-Ryder Cup and President’s Cup participants from 2019 – 2023
-Winners of Major Championships from 2019 – 2023
-The leading 15 available players from within the top 150 in The Universal Golf Rankings (TUGR) as of November 20, 2023
-Players relegated or without a contract for the following season from the Final 2023 LIV Golf Individual Standings
-Event invitations as determined by LIV Golf League
That last line seems intriguing.
So who will join them from Round 1? The top 20 players and ties from Friday’s 18 holes, which will consist of a field of the following exemptees:
Qualifiers for Round 1
-Members of the 2023 Walker and Palmer Cup Teams
-Winner and runner-up of the following most recent amateur events: U.S. Amateur Championship, The Amateur Championship, Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (October 29), Latin America Amateur Championship, European Amateur Championship, NCAA Championship (Individual), Eisenhower Trophy (Individual)
-Leading 15 available players from within the top 40 WAGR rankings as of November 20, 2023 (excluding players exempt into round 2)
-Leading 25 available players from within the top 40 on the final International Series 2023 Rankings, (excluding those exempt into round two)
-Leading 3 available players from inside the top 5 from each of the following professional Tours as of November 20, 2023: Japan Golf Tour (Money Ranking inc. Majors), KPGA Korean Tour (Genesis Point Ranking), Sunshine Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia
-Tournament winners from the Asian Tour in 2023 and Korn Ferry Tour in 2023
-Leading 30 available players from within the top 300 in The Universal Golf Rankings (TUGR) as of November 20, 2023 (excluding those who are exempt into Round 2)
-Event invitations as determined by LIV Golf League
So you take 20 plus ties from that group and add them to the field on Saturday, where scores will reset and they’ll play 18 holes and cut, again, to the top 20 — this time without ties. So there’s likely to be a playoff Saturday night to whittle things down to 20, which could get messy. Then the remaining 20 play the final 36 holes on Sunday in what LIV is calling “an intense full-day, 36-hole shootout.” The top three players will earn $200,000, $150,000 and $100,000, respectively, in addition to the promise of LIV earnings to come.
There will be money. There will be intrigue. With new LIV signees, there always is. Once the dust has settled and the league has established its 48 players, it’ll resume its fight for relevance. It’ll face bigger questions. But in the meantime we’ll learn a little more about the golf world, about LIV and about the golfers striving to play there.